Infection Prevention Effort Targets Hospital Handshakes

Cheryl Clark, July 1, 2014

A suggestion to reduce rates of hospital-acquired infections by replacing handshakes with fist bumps and other gestures is meeting mixed reviews among clinicians.

It may be time for hospitals, doctors and nurses—and all healthcare settings where infections spread—to ban the handshake, starting with high risk areas. So suggests evidence reviewed by pediatrician Mark Sklansky, MD, and colleagues at Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA.

"Shaking peoples' hands in hospital settings where we know there's a lot of vulnerable patients and a concentrated amount of pathogenic organisms just doesn't make sense," he says. "We know that hand-related transmission of disease is a big part of hospital-acquired infections, and we know the handshake is part of that."

In a recent issue of JAMA, Sklansky and colleagues suggest replacing the handshake with the Yoga-like Namaste gesture (placing palms together in front of the face or chest and tilting the head forward), a reverent bow, a hand wave, or even a fist bump.

In an interview last week, Sklansky said UCLA will try a pilot handshake-free zone soon, perhaps starting in the neonatal intensive care unit, where babies are especially vulnerable to infection, or another high risk area of the hospital.

But he's already encountered some resistance.


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